Imagine a slew of developable land parcels facing a brand-new, landscaped thoroughfare, right in the heart of one of the nation's most expensive cities. The entrants of the San Francisco Prize/Octavia Boulevard Housing Design Competition didn't have to rely on their imaginations; they had a crack at the real thing. The program challenged them to devise creative housing solutions for one of four sites along Octavia Boulevard in San Francisco's Hayes Valley neighborhood. Currently under construction, the European-style boulevard replaces the much-despised Central Freeway, which was severely damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and eventually dismantled. The private organizations and city agencies sponsoring the competition hoped it would provoke some innovative thinking about integrating housing and retail into the area.

And it did. The eight-member jury of architects and planners included David Baker, FAIA, of David Baker + Partners in San Francisco; Teddy Cruz of Estudio Teddy Cruz in San Diego; Julie Eizenberg, AIA, of Koning Eizenberg Architecture in Santa Monica, Calif.; and Enrique Norten of TEN Arquitectos in Mexico City and New York. “One of the purposes of the competition is to invigorate the neighborhood architecturally,” says Baker. To that end, the judges selected two first-place winners, one by a team from the Oakland, Calif., firm envelope A+D and one by Dorchester, Mass–based designer Amit C. Price Patel.

George Edwin Tolosa of Hayward, Calif., took second place, while Montalba Architects of Santa Monica, Calif.; Kennerly Strong Architecture of San Francisco; and COIL Collaborative of Alameda, Calif., garnered honorable mentions. The jury also gave out five “idea” prizes to entries whose overall concepts merited recognition. The design winners received cash awards, but a bigger goal may lie in their sights: Because the city is encouraging developers to work with the winners on their building proposals, these on-the-boards designs may someday become a reality.